Research project


A - Environmental Change Research

B - Sustainable Management and Ecosystem Services

Introduction to Subprogram
Upcoming environmental, economic and social challenges have led to a prominent position of landuse systems in the current scientific discussion. Growing populations and continuously changing diets towards meat and diary products result in increasing food demand (Godfray et al. 2010), while the food production systems since long impact adversely on the environment (Tilman 1999, Altieri 2009). A growing trend to produce energy from food (Brown 2009) further heats up the already strong competition for land and water, escalating in the phenomenon of “land grabbing”. On top of all, climate change is not only driven by unsustainable land-use (van der Werf et al. 2009) but its consequences feed, through increasing vulnerability, back to food production systems (Godfray et al. 2011). And finally poverty and rural depopulation are undesirable social consequences of inefficient land-use systems (Coomes et al. 2011), which may partly be traced back to insufficient knowledge, lacking citizenship and education (Aronson et al. 2010). This multifaceted situation has created a manifold of approaches to ensure sustainable use of our planet’s resources, which is able to satisfy growing demands for food, food security, water, and energy. Discussed approaches include “designer landscapes” (Koh et al. 2009), agroforestry approaches (Perfecto and Vandermeer 2010), “land-sparing” (Phalan et al. 2011) and “landsharing” models (Fischer et al. 2011), as well as combinations based on the “compartmental land use approach” (Knoke et al. accepted). However, what is lacking is the establishment and transfer of comprehensive and sustainable land-use systems in real landscapes. 

C - Cross-scale Monitoring: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functions

 It is widely accepted that the threat of biodiversity and ecosystem services need continuous monitoring in all ecosystems of the world (Scholes et al. 2008). Article 7 (b) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) obliges the member countries (e.g. Ecuador) to “monitor, through sampling and other techniques, the components of (their) biological diversity”. The recently established international science-policy platform IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) recommends a regular assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services on various scales (Perrings et al. 2011). National strategies on biodiversity and ecosystem services propose specific indicator systems for monitoring the status of their ecosystems, in particular their biological diversity, with respect to ecosystem stability, conservation or restoration. Guidelines for the evaluation and the analysis of results accompany the measures stipulated by the National Strategies. The Ecuadorian National Strategy on Biodiversity proposes general priority measures for endangered areas which have been identified on the basis of vegetation cover on a large scale, and on bird diversity. Special strategies for the management and conservation of those areas (e.g. the Páramo, dry forest ecosystems) shall be developed in an action plan and suitable measures involving affected actors shall be implemented. All these measures require research-based action, and they are under considerable pressure of time.  There are several ways to establish a monitoring system, depending on its aim. Most of the current biodiversity monitoring systems simply focus on the recurrent observation of compositional indicators, which frequently are threatened or popular “flagship” indicator species. In a more system-based approach, monitoring should also apply indicator systems unveiling changes in structural and functional biodiversity encompassing multiple levels of organization, mostly related to different spatial scales (Noss et al. 1990). From an environmental perspective a biodiversity monitoring system needs additional abiotic and socio- conomic indicators, regarding e.g. climate, water and soil, as well as land use and many others (e.g. Duell & Obrist 2002). If the indicators shall particularly act as an early-warning surveillance system for global change impacts, abundant indicators, sensitive to subtle changes and related to ecosystem functions should be used (see e.g. van Strien et al. 2009, Palmer & Febria 2012). Very important is the requirement that the indicators not only reflect a change but also disentangle the hidden functional reason for the change (Bässler et al. 2010). This points to the need of monitoring ecosystem functions by means of changesensitive indicators where changes in these indicators are expected to reflect also changes in specific services to which the monitored function belongs (Moonen & Bárberi 2008). Such type of indicators hardly exists, particularly in developing countries. Hence, the development of monitoring systems targeting ecosystem functions requires research as e.g. ecological experiments. To achieve acceptance in developing countries a monitoring system should encompass also straightforward methods based on already developed community-based approaches, and should include local communities and political stakeholders (Danielsen et al. 2003). Additionally, a monitoring system needs baseline data and a long-term perspective, supported at least in parts by citizen science concepts (Magurran et al. 2010). Considering all these aspects, subprogram C strives to contribute indicators for a prototype of a monitoring system, applicable to a meaningful monitoring of changes in the state and biodiversity of the ecosystems triggered by environmental changes (climate and land use changes) in the biodiversity hotspot South Ecuador. The system should combine simple (and partly ancillary) as well as functional indicators which, in our terminology, addresses in the first place changes of ecosystem functions. It will consider national strategies and include local communities and stakeholders. 

X - Cooperative projects

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